Patti Smith is no stranger to tragedy, and when you’ve been in the middle of the punk rock sphere for as long as she has, it’s inevitable to become unmoved when horror strikes. However, that doesn’t mean she has become immune from heartbreak with the death of Amy Winehouse in 2011 touching her on a profound level.
She has lived through the grimy world of rock ‘n’ roll and witnessed it at its unabashed worst. Even though she didn’t know Amy Winehouse on a personal level, and they lived on different continents, she recognised the fragility in the soulful siren. Smith is one of the lucky ones, she’s a survivor, but there’s a lot of friends that she has lost along the way and cannot reminisce about the golden days alongside.
The industry can be a lonely place, and it’s often somewhere where drink and drugs can be more readily available than food, making these vices become everyday reliances. Winehouse’s voice was genuinely one-off, but the same can’t be said about her tragic end. Her death sent shockwaves to anybody who her music has ever touched, and Smith turned to songwriting in a bid to relay her intense feelings.
Writing has been with Smith every step of the way, ever since she moved to New York as a teenager. Smith would eventually get a job in a bookshop to pay her rent which enabled her to continue writing and, in turn, fulfil her dreams of being a spoken word artist. Whenever something eventful happens in her life, she picks up the pen and tries to clarify the situation by doing what she does best.
“As a writer, I’ll get as dark as I have to be – you can be a pacifist or a murderer in your work,” Smith once mused. She added: “But as a mother, a grandmother, an aunt, I try to stay upbeat and practical and responsible. I try to live by my parents’ work ethic and I plug away, and do what I have to do to make things as good as they can be.”
When she heard the news of Amy’s passing, Smith locked herself away in the darker explorative side of her brain and wrote the skeletons of a poem which eventually became the track, ‘This Is The Girl’, which featured on her 2012 album, Banga.
“The little song for Amy just blossomed in the studio,” Smith revealed about the track. “We were at [New York studio] Electric Lady doing a whole other song and I wrote Amy a little poem when she died and my bass player, Tony Shanahan, wrote a piece of music, and the two matched perfectly.
She added: “We wrote a very nice little song for Amy Winehouse, and I think a beautiful song for Maria Schneider, the actress who was a friend of mine in the ’70s. They just happened, like gifts.”
Meanwhile, during an interview on Nightline, Smith commented, “I was actually amazed when I first heard [Winehouse] sing because she sings the songs of my generation with such authenticity. For me, [Winehouse’s death] was a real loss of a human being.”
During the profound song, Smith sings, “This is the girl for whom all tears fall, This is the girl who was having a ball, This is the laurel to crown her head, This is the wine of the house it is said”.
Winehouse’s death has left a gaping hole that is still yet to be filled, and she’s an imitable talent that will never be replaced. Even someone as bruised by heartbreak as Patti Smith was left reeling by the devastating news that robbed the world of a timeless talent, and her parents lost their precious daughter.